In coping with overseas debacles, American politicians often fare better at playing the Blame Game or patting themselves on the back than they do with preventing problems or figuring out how to resolve them.
It was that way a generation ago with China and Vietnam, and it’s that way now with Iraq. News from the ethnically divided country barely hit newspaper headlines and TV screens before writers and politicians started assessing blame.
“Who lost Iraq?” asked foreign affairs columnist and CNN weekly host Fareed Zakaria. “The Iraqis did, with an assist from George W. Bush.”
“Six Reasons Obama Lost Iraq,” countered Ben Shapiro on breitbart.com, citing the “power vacuum” after the 2011 U.S. troop withdrawal and “the chaotic situation” in neighboring Syria due to President Barack Obama’s inaction.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who has made a career of blaming Obama for refusing to follow his advice, insisted on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” that, “Gen. (David) Petraeus had the conflict won, thanks to the surge” of which McCain was a prime advocate. “But the president wanted out, and now we are paying a very heavy price.”
In a sense, they’re all right. Blame is shared by almost everyone who has dealt with Iraq for the past century, from the British who created an inherently illogical country after the Ottoman Empire collapsed to most groups and individuals who have wielded power since.
Iraq’s current problems stem directly from Bush’s 2003 decision to invade the country, inspired by what proved to be a futile effort to find weapons of mass destruction. Overthrowing President Saddam Hussein removed a horrific dictator but also undercut Iraq’s stability.
Subsequent action by Bush’s transition appointees to eliminate Hussein’s political and military infrastructure left an unstable government propped up by US aid and troops. Instability has persisted since, exacerbated by the way the majority Shiites excluded or oppressed the Sunni minority that ran Iraq during Hussein’s rule.
Admittedly, problems intensified without US troops to provide political and military restraint. They were withdrawn after Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki refused to sign a Status of Forces Agreement governing relations with US forces. But McCain is probably right in saying Obama did not push back much against al-Maliki because he wanted to meet his goal of US withdrawal from Iraq.
More recently, Iraq’s problems have intensified because of the spillover of the trouble in neighboring Syria, notably by Sunni terrorists from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria group.
Obama has been exploring possible steps to stabilize the situation, including targeted air attacks, perhaps with drones, sending a few Special Forces to resume training Iraqi troops and dispatching other Americans to protect US embassy personnel.
Before sending more aid, American officials want al-Maliki to be more inclusive toward the Sunnis and are talking to Iran, which has strong influence with the Shiite regime.
But Iraq has not been stable since Hussein’s overthrow, something Obama papered over in 2011 when he declared that the US was leaving behind a “sovereign, stable and self-reliant Iraq, with a representative government.”
It seems the best solution may be something Vice President Joe Biden proposed—and was ridiculed over—years ago: partitioning of the country in which each major faction—Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds—controls part of Iraq.
The Kurds have achieved relative stability in Kurdistan, and the Shiites may be better able to control the continuing war by letting Sunnis run the part they control.
Thus, in division, may lie the road to future Iraqi stability.
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In my April 24 column, I wrote that former President George Bush “presumably won’t be jumping out of any planes for his 90th birthday in June.” My presumption was wrong. On June 12, he marked No. 90 by jumping 6,300 feet from a helicopter near his Maine home.– ©2014 The Dallas Morning News / Distributed by MCT Information Services
Carl P. Leubsdorf is the former Washington bureau chief of the Dallas Morning News.